A FORMER Hartlepool police officer played a key role in a multi-million pound smuggling operation that brought cigarettes into the country from around the globe.
Gary Thompson was involved in a gang that involved the cloning of identities of innocent people and hijacked company names to foil a shipping agency and the taxman.
Details of the scam emerged during a trial at Newcastle Crown Court yesterday, where Anthony Lamb - another former Hartlepool policeman from Coxhoe - has denied conspiracy to evade cigarette duty.
Thompson, 43, of Burdon Walk, Castle Eden, and a third man, David Lister, 49, of Downham Market, Norfolk, have already pleaded guilty to the same charge.
The trio are said to have arranged the importation of 21 shipping containers from ports including Dubai, Singapore, Turkey and Greece.
The court heard there had been a conspiracy to evade almost £11m in duty between July 1, 2007, and March 6, l Turn to Page 5
The jury was told that the group imported shipments of boxes containing the cigarettes from ports in Dubai, Singapore, Turkey and Greece to Felixstone, Suffolk.
Seven of the containers containing 60 million cigarettes were seized by HM Revenue and Customs officers, with the consignments disguised as innocuous items.
Craig Hassall, prosecuting, told jurors there was “no doubt” a conspiracy had taken place, but it was for them to determine whether Lamb was part of the organised criminal group.
He told the court that between July 2007 and March 2010, 21 shipping containers had been imported by the group.
Mr Hassall said: “Between those dates, seven of these containers were seized by officers of HMRC.
“Within the containers were just short of 60 million cigarettes.
“The amount of tax evaded amounted to just short of £11m.
“What was going on was that an address would be rented, it would be rented in a false name.
“They then sent out the false documents to the freight agents to get the containers through customs.
“They were concealing the fact that someone else was importing the cigarettes.
“They didn’t want them to find out they were evading all that tax.”
Mr Hassall also told jurors that Thompson was filmed depositing money at a number of banks, with his face concealed by a baseball cap.
He added: “Gary Thompson used to be a police officer with Hartlepool.
“Anthony Lamb also used to be a police officer with Hartlepool.
“What the prosecution say is that both of them will have had an awareness of law enforcement techniques.
“They knew what they were doing.”
Thompson and Lister will both be sentenced when Lamb’s trial, which could last up to five weeks, is concluded.